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“This is your last chance!” shouted the leader of Columbian guerillas. “Join us, convince the Motilone to join us, and you will live. Otherwise, you are a dead man.”

The surrounding group of rebels aimed their guns at American missionary Bruce Olson. He fully expected to see Jesus in the next moment.

Of course, this was not the first time Bruce faced death during his twenty-seven years with the fierce Motilone tribe.

No sooner had he arrived in 1961, than Bruce was surrounded by tribal warriors who shot him in the leg with an arrow and took him captive. The guides who had led him to their village fled.

Bruce was just nineteen years old and had received no backing from any mission organization, because of his age and lack of training. But he’d seen a picture of the remote Columbian tribe and felt drawn to share with them about Jesus.

His own life had been wonderfully transformed by Christ, and Bruce desired that for others—especially for this people-group who knew nothing about Jesus.

(The Motilone live in northeastern Columbia and western Venezuela.)

Some would say, “Bruce must have misunderstood God’s plan. Otherwise, why would he experience calamity the minute he arrived?”

But look what God did.

First, the Motilone chief forbade the warriors to kill Bruce. Later he and his men would admit there was no reason to spare him; they just did.

The next day the chief’s son, Bobarishora, brought worms for Bruce to eat, which thankfully tasted like liquified bacon and eggs. In spite of the language barrier, Bruce and Bobarishora began to build a friendship.

The leg wound became infected. Bruce escaped and returned to civilization for treatment. But upon regaining strength, the young missionary went back to the tribe—only to contract dysentery and have to seek medical help again. He almost died in the effort.

For his third attempt to settle with the Motilone, Bruce brought medical supplies. The witch doctor took great interest in their healing powers and learned from Bruce how to use them. With Bobarishora and the witch doctor as allies, Bruce began to achieve acceptance in the tribe.

Over the next four years he learned the Motilone language and set about translating the New Testament into their language, putting to use his knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

Bobarishora, or “Bobby,” became the first to accept Jesus into his life. At a festival not long after, Bobby sang about the jungle trail of life, a metaphor familiar to the Motilone. Bobby explained he’d seen the footprints of God.

“There are many trails in the jungles,” he said. “But there is one trail that goes to the horizon.” (Bobby was referring to heaven.)  “Christ came to walk that trail so we can walk in his footsteps.”[1]

It wasn’t long before many tribespeople had become Jesus-followers. They began sending their own missionaries to neighboring tribes to tell them about Christ.

The Motilone wanted to learn how to read and write, so Bruce started a school. He also set up a medical clinic, and led the effort to grow cacao, to help support the tribe.

(Cutting a cacao pod from the tree.)

Over time the proceeds helped finance 48 schools, more than 20 health clinics, 12 farming cooperatives, and numerous scholarships for Motilone students to attend high school and university.[2]

Then came the day in 1988 when 15 Communist guerillas kidnapped Bruce with the plan of forcing his cooperation, and convincing the Motilone to do so also. Bruce spent several months chained to a palm tree and became very ill. Somehow he survived.

One of the leaders asked Bruce to teach them how to read and write. They brought a book to Bruce, not knowing it was a New Testament. Bruce used it to teach the men to read, and many became Jesus followers.

Bruce’s health continued to deteriorate. The guerillas decided to give him a blood transfusion.

“I will give him some of my blood,” one rebel announced.

The next day he told Bruce that when he was a young child, the Motilone had given food to his widowed mother for three years, never asking for anything in return. “You saved my life,” he said, “Now, I save your life.”[3]

Months passed. No amount of mistreatment had convinced Bruce to help their cause.

One day a group stood him against a tree, announced his execution, and aimed their guns at him. But when they fired, Bruce remained unharmed. They’d shot blanks at him, expecting this final test to break him.

Sometime later one of the leaders told Bruce that capturing him had been a mistake. He hoped that Bruce could forgive them.

He promised the rebels would leave the Motilone alone, and Bruce could continue his work. After nine months of captivity, they released him.

As a result of Bruce’s long devotion to the tribe, more than 400 Motilone have graduated from high school, and over 30 from university, trained as physicians, accountants, translators, forest rangers, agriculturalists, and more. Still others have received technical training.

All have returned to their jungle communities to share their expertise within the tribe.

As of 2018, more than 70% of the Motilone tribe are following in Christ’s footsteps to the horizon.[4]

As for Bruce Olson, now 80, you’ll find him still working with the people of 18 different tribes and languages of the jungles.[5]


 Notes:

[1] https://missionexus.org/an-interview-with-bruce-olson/

[2] https://www.tms-global.org/story-details/bruchko

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] https://www.godreports.com/2021/02/legendary-american-missionary-ate-maggots-wore-a-flea-collar-to-survive/ 

Additional Sources:

https://www.bruceolson.com/en/index.html

https://www.theopedia.com/bruce-olson

Photo credits: http://www.picryl.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.commons.wikipedia.org (2).

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